DEFRA has unveiled plans to consult on the principle of culling badgers in areas affected by a high incidence of tuberculosis in cattle.
In an announcement to MPs yesterday (15 December), junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw said that, along with the consultation, the government would introduce pre-movement testing and adopt a new compensation scheme for cattle affected by TB, brucellosis and Enzootic Bovine Leukosis.
DEFRA has also proposed to extend the use of the gamma interferon test as an adjunct to the skin test to improve diagnosis of the disease.
A DEFRA spokesman conceded that any badger culling would have to be done under licence to comply with the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, but confirmed that the department was not ruling out issuing licences to farmers.
The consultation also seeks views on three methods of culling – gassing, shooting of free-running badgers and snaring.
The snares used would be “body” snares that restrain the animal without causing it any harm.
The snared animal would then be shot by the licence holder.
From 20 February, 2006 all cattle over 15 months of age from herds under one- and two-year testing restrictions will be subject to a pre-movement test.
From March 2007 this will be expanded to include all cattle over six weeks of age from herds under one- and two-year testing regimes.
As of 1 February, 2006 DEFRA will introduce a new compensation scheme using a tabular system covering 47 categories.
For non-pedigree animals the value will be determined using market data from the previous month.
For pedigree categories six months market data will be used.
The government’s proposals, although regarded as a step in the right direction, are likely to result in much disappointment from the UK’s farmers’ leaders.
Speaking earlier in the week farmers’ leaders were keen to state the significance of a wildlife cull and were optimistic that the government would take the necessary steps.
Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association said: “We are hoping that DEFRA recognises the need to reduce the impact of TB on the taxpayer, on farmers and on badgers.
“If it accepts that a cull is necessary, and we hope it does, the NBA will do all in its means to help DEFRA design a culling policy that is effective and intensive in hotspot areas.”
Sarah Slade, national TB adviser at the Country Land & Business Association, said: “Evidence from around the world is overwhelming in showing that TB can only be controlled by taking comprehensive, concerted and sustained action across all species.
“But the government cannot hope to sweeten a bitter pill of reduced compensation, pre-movement testing and greater cattle culling resulting from blood testing by blandishing a promise of a consultation on wildlife.
The CLA looks for better action than that.”